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September 2010 ArticlesSeptember 2010 Articles

01 Oct

Join A Creative Group Or Club

Get out of your office and away from the computer screen

If you’re a creative type like me you should belong to a creative group or club in your community. I joined PAG (Photo Arts Group) this past February. I discovered PAG when I saw an exhibit at my favorite local coffee shop. I wasn’t looking to join a group at the time, but the images I saw really inspired me. I found out where the meeting place and time was and went to the next scheduled meeting. I remember it was raining that night. I was a little nervous, not sure what to expect and wondering if I would fit in (whatever that means). Going to that meeting was one of the best decisions I have made for myself this year.

You Will Make New Friends
You might be into, painting, sculpture, ceramics, quilting, scrapbooking, creative writing, photography, digital art or any number of creative passions. Whatever it is, I bet there is a group nearby of creative folks just like you.

I’ve enjoyed making new friends who share a passion for creative photography. I continue to learn a lot from them. I’ve also learned a lot about myself and gained some confidence too.

You Will Get Inspired
Looking at other artist’s work inspires me. Talking to artists about their work inspires me even more. I love to hear the background stories. I’m curious about the where, when, why and how an image was created. I love to hear about other artist’s personal journeys. What type of creative work have they have done in the past? How did that lead to where they are at currently? Where are they headed from here? What ideas do they want to explore more?

A local community group provides a great opportunity for these kinds of discussions. The dialog is more personal and in depth than twitter chats or facebook comments. Online communities can be inspiring too, I'm just saying that an in person one is well, more personal.

You Can Show Off Your Own Work
All right, I’ll be totally honest here. This part was really hard for me. I had been posting my images on facebook, but that is a completely safe and friendly audience. Of course my family and friends love what I do, but I wasn’t so sure about complete strangers. I also had no idea how to present my work. What should I print my images on? How should I frame them? How big should they be? Those questions really intimidated me.

PAG members answered my questions and gave me the confidence to show my work. I’m certain I could have never done this on my own.

Get Your Images Off The Computer and On To A Wall
I love facebook and flickr. I continue to share images on both sites. I also have a folder of images for my screen saver slide show. I enjoy watching the random display of my work. Sometimes I grow to love an image. Other images become weaker for me the longer I look at them. The slide show helps me evaluate my own work.

Before joining PAG, my creative work lived on my computer. I didn’t have a good enough reason to bother with the printing. I’ve since learned that looking at images on the computer screen is not the same as viewing them in print. Printing an image legitimizes it.

A couple months back I had a large (3' x 3') canvas print made of this image.

image of ranunculus

The canvas print stunned me. I couldn’t believe that it was mine.

The image began as a playful concept. An afternoon at the flower fields produced a bunch of not very good flower pictures. I came up with this graphic design idea just to see if I could make something out of nothing. I really had no plans of printing the piece. It was just something fun to try.

If not for PAG and the commitment I made to exhibit in a show titled “Essence”, I would never have printed this image. Joining PAG freed my images from the computer and helped me appreciate my own work more. I am also excited about what I might create next.

Do you already belong to a group? If so what group(s) do you belong to and how does this benefit you creatively?


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21 Sep

Black Night and Bright Lights

Fix what HDR misses with Photoshop

image of Ceasars Night Reflections Final

I was so certain I had something special with this shot, that I took 4 sets of brackets on my Canon. That’s a total of twelve slightly different exposed images. I wanted to make sure I captured every fragment of light in the scene so I kept shooting longer and longer exposures.

image of brackets
I ended up using these four images for my HDR.

The dynamic range is so wide that even with HDR processing I struggled to hold the details from highlights to shadows. I decided that the shadow details were most important. In Photomatix I adjusted the settings focusing on the detail in the bushes and the reflections in the water.

image of tonemap

Above is the result of the tonemapping in Photomatix. Overall the image is decent but I was really disappointed in the lost highlight detail, especially in the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture. The sculpture is the keystone to the composition. The details are important to me so I took to Photoshop to fix it.

The following workflow is one I follow for every HDR image. This example just happens to be more extreme than most.

First, I open the tonemap image in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). I bump up the blacks, add some clarity, increase the sharpness and remove some noise. (I make similar adjustments to every HDR image).

image of mini bridge

Next I open the edited tonemap image in Photoshop. With mini bridge (new to PS CS5) I find the original bracket with the best highlight detail. Dragging the image into my Photoshop file opens ACR and places the image as a smart object.

image of bad density match
I mask the smart object layer with a black mask to hide everything, then I paint the mask with white to reveal the highlight areas. The mask reveals that the densities between the layers don’t match. This is where smart objects are so smart. Double clicking on the smart object layer brings up ACR where I can make some quick adjustments to the overall density by adding fill light. Closing ACR by clicking "DONE" returns to Photoshop. If the density or colors still aren't perfect I try it again until it is just right.

image of final layers

For a more seamless match I brush in some shadow density to the tonemap layer using a masked levels adjustment layer. See the middle layer above where I have brushed in shadow weight just behind the sculpture and to the left of it. This blends the values of the background scene with the sculpture detail. My shadow densities are so well matched at this point that I can use a large soft brush to paint in all of the lost highlight details.

I finish the image by making a flattened copy of my layers and straightening the vertical lines with the transform tool.

HDR is an amazing photographic tool but it is just one tool. Have a vision for your HDR images when capturing your brackets. Get as close as possible to your vision with the HDR software of your choice and then use Photoshop to make it perfect.


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17 Sep

Publication Design

Print verses ePubs

image of Breathless Book

When I opened the Breathless packaging, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the offset printing ink. It almost made me miss my prepress days, when I spent a lot of time around presses. There is something gratifying about seeing one of my designs in print. It’s a tangible thing, something that can be held, felt and smelled. Breathless is extra special because it is my first printed book design.

It could very well be the last.

Recently, I signed a contract to do production work for Oceanhouse Media. They publish children’s books for iPads and iPhones. I finished my first publication last week and am about to get started on my second. I am very excited about this opportunity because I recognize the truth about print publication. It is a shrinking industry and it doesn’t pay all that much anymore. E-Publication is where the money and the opportunities are. To survive as a freelance graphic artist I have to adapt my skill set to the changing world.

I will miss the smell of fresh ink while I read ePubs on my iPhone. I just hope I won’t witness the death of print publication in my lifetime.

Read the Breathless Book Cover Design article.

The novel Breathless can be purchased from

Visit the Breathless website


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10 Sep

Photoshop World Highlights

I've been back from Photoshop World for almost a week now and I'm still trying to get my feet back on the ground. This was my first Photoshop World and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

Guru Award - Artistic

My Trippy Self Portrait Guru Award
(c) Brad Moore

The guru awards were announced at the end of the opening ceremonies after a great show that included a funny spoof VH1 documentary, live music, Photoshop tips, Hall of Fame awards, best image contest for the Concert Photography pre-con (taught by local concert Photographer, Alan Hess) and an awesome magic act. The show was so much fun. I had arrived alone, but felt like I was surrounded by a few thousand friends. I never had an opportunity to be nervous. The artistic category was announced first, and then Larry Becker announced my name and my picture was on the big screen. I was stunned. I think I sat in my seat with my head in my hands for longer than I should have.

NAPP Instructors

I can't say enough nice things about the NAPP group of instructors. They are fun, friendly, gracious and completely accessible. After receiving the award, I walked off the stage and was greeted by Ben Wilmore who gave me a hug and told me congratulations. Wow! Ben's Photoshop class last year changed everything for me. He inspired me to take my Photoshop art seriously and to share it with others. I never dreamed that a year later I would be receiving a guru award at Photoshop World and he would be the first to congratulate me.

The night before I attended a Tweetup where I first met Rafael Concepcion (RC). I went up to RC and asked to introduce myself. Before I could say who I was he said, "I know who you are. You're a guru finalist for the portrait with the cool blouse." I spoke with RC again at the Midnight Madness. He congratulated me for the award and had some really nice things to say about the image. RC is a first rate geniune nice guy and a really, really smart instructor.

Thank You Alan Hess

Last July I participated in the Worldwide Photo Walk. Alan Hess was the walk leader for our San Diego Comic Con location. I introduced myself to Alan. I knew Alan was a Photoshop World instructor and I wanted him to convince me to go to PSW. I asked him why I should attend PSW and he gave me the perfect answer. Alan said I would meet great people and be inspired. He said I might also learn a few things. Alan was 100% accurate. I met the best people at PSW, made some new friends and definitely came away inspired. I learned a few new things too.

Conference Highlights

The best classes I took were the non Photoshop classes. I took a portrait lighting class that taught me a lot about light. I took a twitter class with Rod Harlan and Scott Bourne that taught me a lot of things to help build my graphics business. I watched a two hour presentation by Jay Maisel that was incredibly inspiring and exhausting at the same time. The received greatest inspiration from viewing the portfolio of Senior Digital Imaging Evangelist, Julienne Kost.

On Wednesday I participated in an HDR photo walk sponsored by APC. The walk was lead by Brian Matiash. We went to Freemont Street in the evening and photographed for 2 hours. I learned a lot about capturing good brackets for HDR and am really happy with the results.

Frontier Man Fremont Street Vegas
(c) Theresa Jackson

Golden Nugget Fremont Street Vegas
(c) Theresa Jackson

Friday night, after Photoshop World was over I went back out with camera and tripod and grabbed a few more images of Las Vegas.

Paris Reflection
(c) Theresa Jackson

Trevi Fountain Caeser's Palace
(c) Theresa Jackson

Special Thanks

My mom's encouragement and support made this experience possible. Thanks to her and my Aunt Nancy for sharing the trip to Vegas with me. I hope we can do it again next year.


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